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How to Cope with a Cerebral Palsy Child

Parents want to give birth to a healthy child without disabilities. Unfortunately, in two out of every thousand births, the child is born with or later develops cerebral palsy, a brain injury that affects large motor skills, small motor skills and speech or swallowing. The child, which was thought to be normal, develops obvious abnormalities that need intensive therapy and medical help. The entire family is affected by the presence of a baby with cerebral palsy. As this child grows, the strain on the family can be greater and the child must learn how to cope with his or her cerebral palsy.

Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks you can learn that help your child and his or her family learn to cope with this disabling condition :-

  • You need to encourage an environment of independence for your child. Any effort you can make to get your child to be independent in living skills will foster a greater self esteem in your child. Even if you can do a task faster than your child, he or she should learn to do it themselves as much as possible.
  • You need to be your child's advocate. Your child will have a care team that you will be a part of. Your job is to advocate on behalf of your child with the experts and other members of the care team. You know your child the best and your input is vital to having your child get the care they need.
  • Find a support group. There are parents out there who are going through the same types of things you do. Some children's hospitals offer disability or cerebral palsy support groups where you can get through your feelings of guilt and sadness over having a disabled child. There are counselling services that are effective for parents of children with cerebral palsy. There are even family counselling programs, some of them with other families, where you can learn coping skills and can feel less alone with your issues.
  • Start therapy as early as possible. Children with cerebral palsy have the chance to live normal lives. The trick is to start therapeutic measures as quickly as possible. There are fewer contractures with quick physical therapy and the environment of therapy can improve cognition in these people and can help the child gain physical strength and coordination that are more difficult to gain if therapy is delayed.
  • Make use of many types of therapy. Children with cerebral palsy have speech and swallowing problems just as much as they have problems with stiffness of their arms and legs. This means that there should be occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavioural therapy and speech therapy - all used in ways to maximize function and increase the chance that you will have a healthy, functioning child.
  • Be honest about what is going on with friends, relatives and family. It really doesn't help to hide the child or coddle them so they are hidden from the public and from the potential for interaction with others. These kids need social lives just as much as they need to have good muscle function. If you are honest and forthright with others about the child's impairment, they will be more comfortable with your child and your child will learn skills that allow them to grow into functional and skilful adults who just happen to have cerebral palsy.
  • Have a positive attitude. Cerebral palsy is basically a one-time event with the worst of the situation over with by the time you know the child has the disease. It is best to have a positive attitude about your and your child's future so that you can find out what steps it takes to maximize function following the brain injury. As the disease is not progressive, the only way a child can be perceived as "getting worse" is if you don't go through the necessary therapies and treatments your child needs to progress toward a positive future. In addition, cerebral palsy is not a life threatening disease so you needn't worry about the child dying or becoming moribund because of the brain injury that has happened.
  • Be patient when it comes to the world around you. There will always be people who don't understand cerebral palsy, what it looks like, or what the implications are. These will be people that might take awhile to get used to being around a cerebral palsy child. Make sure you talk openly about the condition, make it clear that it's not catchy or anything like that and make sure you introduce your child gradually to the other people he or she will come in contact with on a day to day basis.
  • Stay as healthy as possible in other aspects of life. As a family, you'll want to face cerebral palsy with a healthy body and mind. This is true of the child with cerebral palsy and his or her family. This means eating well, avoiding obesity and seeing the doctor to be screened for chronic health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure so you know you can care for child as a healthy person and a healthy family.
  • Keep your mental health as good as possible. Sometimes it takes family therapy or individual therapy for parents and siblings of a cerebral palsy child to learn coping strategies and deal with things like depression, sadness and guilt. This means taking the time to become mentally healthy and aware of changes in mental health so you can care for the child afflicted with this brain disorder and also have fulfilled lives that aren't focused solely on child care, therapy and treatments.

Coping with cerebral palsy in your child is a family event. Everyone needs to understand the disease and needs to learn to advocate for their child or sibling. Everyone needs to stay physically and emotionally healthy and each person needs to hold a positive attitude about the future of the special child.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here